As we roll forward into a new world, warmer (sadly), greener (I hope), and much quicker to change, it's time for a new kind of business planning. I call it "The Plan-As-You-Go Business Plan" and I'm writing a book on it, to be published by Entrepreneur, due out next September.
You have a picture of the cover here, and a summary on my blog Planning Startups Stories.
A lot of what's different is in attitude. Plan-as-you-go planning is more flexible, more fluid, than the normal business plan the old way of doing it. It assumes change, and therefore also assumes regular plan review. It focuses on the core of the plan -- strategy and specific steps to implement, trackable metrics, accountability and collaboration -- rather than the information that backs it up and supports it. You'll find these and more essentials, and principles of plan-as-you-go planning, on that post on my blog.
What I wanted to add here, on this blog, is how you can use Business Plan Pro to do that same plan-as-you-go business plan that I'm recommending. I'd like to explain the principles and add the specifics for working those principles with my favorite business planning tool:
- Lighten up. Angels fly because they take themselves lightly. You're not doing a full formal plan unless you have a business reason for that, like seeking investment or borrowing. Form follows function. Don't think you have to do a big formal plan. Just what your business requires to guide it right, help it grow. You might be keeping it on your computer, and never printing it.
- Insert a topic for plan review schedule. Use the outline tool. It fits either in the first chapter, the summary, or the fifth chapter, planning and implementation. Set up the review meetings (for example, third Thursday of every month) and who's supposed to be there. Write this information down in the review schedule topic.
- Get going. Get started. The plan-as-you-go business plan is built in blocks, and you start wherever you are most comfortable, and jump around. You can do that with Business Plan Pro very easily. Use the Tasks window or Outline window. Save often, add things as they come up, and then let it go.
- Create a new topic (outline tools again) for assumptions. Your Business Plan Pro has an assumptions topic in the standard outline, but that tends to tie directly to the specific general assumptions table. A plan-as-you-go business plan keeps assumptions on top, visible, so you review them with every plan review meeting. Remember, this is a new world. Things change fast. You keep the assumptions visible because your plan needs to absorb changing assumptions, and adapt. Plan-as-you-go planning means never doing anything just because it's in the plan; if it doesn't make sense anymore, then you change the plan.
- The heart of your plan is in the strategy chapter. Add topics and change topic names if you want to. Make sure you have focus, what you do for whom, who's your target market, what is your business identity, what are you best at.
- Develop your metrics. Add the specifics. This is probably in the strategy and implementation chapter. You can build this around the milestones chapter, or wherever you want it.
Think of this as attitude adjustment. You're using business planning to run your business, not just to create a document that you'll print. You're going to share all or part of it with people as required for business purposes.
You should separate in your mind the output from the plan. The plan is what you keep in Business Plan Pro. The output might be selections from the plan that you'll distribute as PDF, or a presentation, or a summary, or an elevator speech. That's always just the output.
By the way, you might remember that the print dialog of Business Plan Pro allows you to select specific subsets of topics and tables as you print or create the slides or the PDF document or Word document or whatever. So you can spin out one subset for team members, another for introducing new employees to your company, and another for distribution to vendors or potential partners. The plan is what you manage, and you separate, in your mind, the plan from its various outputs.
Form follows function. Business Plan Pro is a powerful tool for doing a full formal business plan, if you need that; but it's just as powerful for doing a plan-as-you-go business plan, step by step, only what's needed. Do it for yourself, if you don't need to show it to anyone else.